A few days ago , Salva Kiir abrogated in one fell swoop all the decrees that dismissed all the members of his government , declaring that “all could come back and take back their positions” , just as a stern family father telling his wayward children that all was forgiven and that they all could come home . Just as if there had been no motive in these dismissals and as if the clock could innocently be wound back to early 2013.


On March 6th, after a 24 hours extension, the IGAD mediation ground to a halt and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn had to admit that the marathon “peace talks” which have been running off and on till January 2014 have finally achieved nothing. But why is this? Of course there are the unyielding attitudes of the two sides. But is this so surprising? It is not that they disagreed on what was being discussed, it is that they did not want to talk about the same thing. Basically what the SPLM/IO was trying to push forward was a thorough examination of the functionings of the South Sudanese political machinery while the SPLM government only wanted to patch things up in order to basically keep the guerrilla-type form of authority which has been running the country since 2005: top down hierarchical, on a model of Democratic Centralism inherited from the Marxist-Leninist structure built in exile in then Communist Ethiopia in 1984. Between these two irreconcilable views, the mediation (i.e. IGAD + the Troïka supposed to subsume the whole international community) was trying for a stopgap peace, something which could be understood given the massive sufferings of the civilian population.


But even if we go beyond the rival ambitions of two groups of men, it was unreasonable to expect that the fundamental differences between instinctive reformists and clannish defenders of vested interests could simply be bridged by a few nominations and a game of musical chairs in the cabinet. A few days ago , Salva Kiir abrogated in one fell swoop all the decrees that dismissed all the members of his government , declaring that “all could come back and take back their positions” , just as a stern family father telling his wayward children that all was forgiven and that they all could come home . Just as if there had been no motive in these dismissals and as if the clock could innocently be wound back to early 2013. No mention of the mid-December massacres, no mention of what caused them. Salva Kiir is not crazy and nor are his opponents. Let us think back about what triggered this all.


The problem at the time was the planned 2015 election: would the SPLM decide in a closed caucus who would its candidate be for the forthcoming polls? Or would the SPLM throw open the nomination and accept a plurality of candidacies beyond Salva Kiir’s obvious one? At least three – Ms Rebecca Garang, former Vice-President Riak Machar and former SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum – were on the starting blocks. In other words, would we have a democratic election or would we have something on the model of Joseph Stalin being re-elected at the head of the Soviet Union? The potential candidates who felt they might be prevented from competing , asked for a meeting of the National Liberation Council (NLC) , the former guerrilla movement embryo internal Parliament (the Parliament itself was not a player in that game) . This was denied, the internal decision bodies of the SPLM were dissolved by decree, then re-instated after their dismissal caused a furore.


Then the President refused a secret vote at the NLC and his challengers announced a large public demonstration for December 6th which they cancelled only at the demand of the Church authorities who, in this tense climate, reasonably feared a high risk of civil violence. The standoff was brutally resolved when, on December 15th, the government started the massive killing of Nuer soldiers and civilians who represented the only capacity of an armed challenge to the blocked political situation. Now did we see any of this being discussed in the recent “peace talks”? Not in the least. Everything was packaged in a verbose wad of rhetorical cotton, designed to hide more than it clarified. In other words, the real causes of the civil war were never discussed, “peace” became a meaningless mantra (what peace? with what institutions? for what future?) brandished by the international community for lack of anything more intelligent to say. Obviously, it failed, as anybody who even vaguely knew the real situation knew it would.


Is the international community that blind or is it only pretending to be? It is hard to say. Yes, the foreign mediators were often so far from the history and the society they were supposed to help arbitrate that it was a game of the blind leading the prejudiced. But they were not completely ignorant. Nor were they devoid of a minimum of strategic policies/interests. The main ghost in the machine is President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. Linked to the SPLM regime in Juba by a secret treaty which antedated these events by more than a year (its text , signed by Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga was published in the Ugandan Daily Monitor last year) , Museveni’s troops jumped to the help of President Salva Kiir faster than he could ask them to come . Their firepower (tanks, helicopters) carried the day against lightly-equipped infantrymen. These troops are still there, stationed in Upper Nile. And it seems that this presence is tacitly approved by the United States.


But the word “United States” should be used carefully in this case. Because can we say that there is still an “Africa policy” in Washington? This is far from clear. When Under-Secretary of State Johnny Carson retired two years ago, the last person who combined knowledge of Africa, clarity of intent and political clout, disappeared. He was briefly replaced by an intelligent and lucid diplomat, former Ambassador to Ethiopia Don Yamamoto. But he had announced the scenario from day one: he would serve only up to his own retirement and then go, without any delay. This lasted for fourteen months and Ambassador Yamamoto left. He was replaced on August 6th 2013 by a kind but inexperienced career diplomat, Ms Linda Thomas-Greenfield, whose one and only contribution to the Sudan situation was to declare in early 2014 that the alleged “Riak Machar Coup” of December 15th 2013, used to legitimate the wild massacre of the Nuer in Juba, had never taken place, to the best of the US authorities knowledge. Then we never heard of her any more.


So if we try to do a bit of the American version of what used to be called “kremlinology” before perestroika (could we called it “Potomacology”?) it seems that the last Washington political heavyweight who cares about Africa is Susan Rice. She is clever, energetic and she enjoys the support of President Obama. But she has various drawbacks: her knowledge of Africa is large but superficial; she skims the top; she knows the leaders, not the populations; her view of African history is more informed by political correctness than by pragmatic knowledge; she is forthright to the point of obstinacy and she has pet likes and dislikes. One of her pet likes is President Museveni (she seems to have a blind spot concerning Museveni’s increasingly authoritarian rule) and one of her pet dislikes is the Khartoum regime whose murderous record is beyond discussion.


But the adage that in politics the ends justify the means can take political leaders down strange and twisted paths. President Museveni’s troops in South Sudan do indeed represent a modicum of support for the SPLM-North guerrillas fighting Khartoum in Kordofan. But:

·       This hardly justifies their support for the violently anti-democratic regime in Juba

·       In spite of Abd-el-Azziz al-Hilew’s courage and determination, SPLM-N is unlikely to overthrow Khartoum’s Inqaz regime without a broader coalition of forces.

·       Musevenis’s intents in South Sudan have strong neo-colonialist overtones, which were already present in the same gentleman’s policy of invasion of the Congo, for which the US already displayed a selective blindness amounting to approval.


IGAD or no IGAD, South Sudan is not out of the woods yet. And the “stability” provided by Museveni’s forces will keep contributing more to the problem than to the solution.


Last Updated on Saturday, 07 March 2015 05:17



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